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Ball taking new bounces for best friends

Coaching has become a passion of Boca Ciega's top player. Clearwater's star envisions a state title.

By PETE YOUNG, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 6, 2002


photo
[Times photo: Carrie Pratt]
Dominique Redding consoles Roegiers-Jensen after Bogie's 30-point loss to Seminole in December.
The action tumbles back and forth as the coach tries to communicate instructions to her squad of 10-, 11- and 12-year-olds.

It's a Saturday afternoon at Gladden Park in St. Petersburg, and inside the gym, a few dozen volunteers and parents watch and cheer as the co-ed basketball game goes down to the wire.

The coach, wearing a white tank top over a T-shirt, dark basketball shorts and a headband, paces the sideline as her team's lead evaporates. She makes substitutions, calls out plays, lends advice, offers encouragement and ... it's to no avail. The other team pulls away in the final minutes.

No biggie. There are a few hugs, some words of wisdom and a reminder of when they meet again for practice.

Coaching a team of fifth- and sixth-graders requires one part basketball acumen and two parts camp counselor. The coach, Kelcey Roegiers-Jensen, is a point guard by trade, so the hoops aspect is covered.

She also has a built-in advantage in relating to the kids -- because she is a kid. Roegiers-Jensen turned 17 on Jan. 25. She is only a few years removed from playing in this age group.

A junior at Boca Ciega, Roegiers-Jensen learned about the game that has become her passion while dribbling behind her back and making no-look passes in the North St. Petersburg Youth Basketball league.

Her world has come full circle.

"I've been associated with the league forever, so it's great to be able to give back," she said. "I'm getting community service hours for school, but that's just a bonus. I love teaching and coaching kids. This has been great."

Great for her and great for the league.

* * *

Thursday Roegiers-Jensen led Boca Ciega to a win over St. Petersburg.

Friday she drove to Sarasota to watch a friend's game.

Saturday she drove over the Howard Frankland Bridge to Tampa to watch two friends on opposing teams.

Sunday afternoon, it's back to Tampa, to the Sun Dome at South Florida, to watch the Bulls play Marquette.

"I'll drive an hour to watch a good game," Roegiers-Jensen said. "I just love the game."

Four days, four games. It is routine mid-January behavior. She is consumed by basketball.

"Basketball, basketball, basketball. If I'm not watching it, I'm playing it. If I'm not playing it, then I'm coaching it."

To fuel her basketball jones this season, coaching has been tossed into the mix -- and it bobbed right to the top. Roegiers-Jensen's greatest enjoyment comes from working with her "little guys," her troop of nine girls and two boys who usually call her "coach," occasionally "Kelcey."

"I find my happiness through them," Roegiers-Jensen said. "Me and my mom (Kathy Roegiers) were just talking about that. That's where my heart is."

Coaching is filling a void. For the second straight season, Roegiers-Jensen is frustrated by her high school team. It's more or less the same story as last year: Her devotion to the game and ability are on a different level than that of her teammates, and the chasm has not been bridged despite Bogie's 17-6 record. It's especially disappointing because her freshman year, playing for a strong Bogie team, was very fulfilling.

Coaching has provided a fresh outlet and lifted her spirits; reciprocally, her presence has had an impact on the league.

"Everybody in the program knows who she is and what she brings to the table," league president Jim Cardoza said. "If you polled all of the kids, probably 70 percent of them would say they want to play on her team.

"It's a wonderful thing that she wants to give her time to share with the kids younger than her. It says (tons) about her."

* * *

Where the high school season again is aggravating Roegiers-Jensen, the basketball gods continue to smile on her AAU basketball teammate, fellow hoops prodigy and best pal Dominique Redding.

[Times photo: Carrie Pratt]
Roegiers-Jensen's expertise also is shared with her Boca Ciega teammates. Here, from left, Shawnte Speights, Charee Howard and Alison Lester listen in.

Redding's Clearwater High team is a state power (again), ranked No. 2 in Class 5A. The 6-foot-1 Redding, who turns 17 Sunday, is having another outstanding season, averaging 22.1 points and 8.8 rebounds. The Tornadoes are 27-1 and have their eyes on a state championship run this month.

Roegiers-Jensen's statistics are impressive (20.3 points, 5 rebounds and 4.8 assists) and Boca Ciega's record is good, but it is in large part the product of the quality of opposition, or lack thereof. Against the county's top teams, such as district foe Seminole, the Pirates get walloped. Against Clearwater at a holiday tournament they lost by -- egad! -- 55 points, 71-16. Bogie represented the south in the county title game Saturday, and Clearwater prevailed decisively.

Largo has become Clearwater's biggest rival. Six days before the Tornadoes and Packers met for the second time this season, Clearwater coach Tom Shaneyfelt already had the team watching videotape. Clearwater swept the season series on Jan. 24, beating Largo 71-46. Redding had 44 points.

"We've definitely got a better team than last year (when Clearwater reached the region semifinal)," Redding said. "With (senior guard) Kasie (Muchler) and the freshmen -- they're like super-freshmen."

While Roegiers-Jensen wonders whether her skills are stagnating and other point guards are whizzing past her in the eyes of college coaches, Redding envisions a state title -- if she can play more consistently.

"Hopefully I can step up and play like I know I can play," Redding said. "Some games I do well. Others, like the first game against Largo (a 71-58 win Nov. 28), I'm like, "Do they really write articles about (me)?' That has to change. I have to be more consistent."

* * *

Those who know Roegiers-Jensen are certain about how she will be making a living in 20 years.

"She's definitely going to be a coach," said Redding, who has helped out Roegiers-Jensen on occasion and also wants to coach when her playing career is finished. "She does it to teach the kids. You have to have a lot of patience, because they're just learning, and she has a lot of patience."

[Times photo: Carrie Pratt]
Kelcey Roegiers-Jensen checks team pictures before distributing them to her fifth- and sixth-grade players Saturday at Gladden Park.

"Kelcey has a great rapport with the kids," said Stephanie Crawford, president of Hoops Headquarters, a Clearwater company that trains young athletes such as Roegiers-Jensen and Redding. "I was at her game on (Jan. 19). The kids respect her and the parents respect her."

Roegiers-Jensen, who is coaching the league's 12-and-under girls all-star team this month, patterns her coaching style and techniques after her favorite mentors. At the top of the list is John Hopkins Middle School coach Louis Rowe.

"Coach Rowe, everything he's done for me, I still go back and practice sometimes with them," Roegiers-Jensen said. "His knowledge and his drills definitely have helped me out. I always learn things from him."

The AAU season begins shortly after the high school season, and when it does the natural pecking order will be restored: Playing ball will take priority over coaching.

The Clearwater Green Wave AAU team, with Roegiers-Jensen, Redding and other local stars such as Seminole's Jen Hansen and Largo's Sheena Walton, has won six consecutive state titles.

Roegiers-Jensen has considered transferring from Boca Ciega because of basketball. New county regulations next year make it more likely she could attend the school of her choice and play for a high-caliber team such as Clearwater, Largo or Seminole.

But she probably won't. She wants to be an athletic trainer if not a coach, and she has invested almost three years in the medical program at Bogie. She made a 3.7 GPA on her last report card.

"What's keeping me at Bogie is definitely academics," Roegiers-Jensen said. "My grades are my top priority. Basketball won't be there forever."

"I love playing, and if I get a chance to play in the WNBA, great," Roegiers-Jensen said. "But I also find happiness in coaching. I feel I know quite a bit about it and have things I can pass along.

"I'm just getting my feet wet, helping kids learn how to play."

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